As quickly as a No. 1 ranking can come, it can go away.
The Michigan men’s basketball team learned that last season when it earned the No. 1 spot on Jan. 28 and relinquished it a week later with a loss to Indiana.
But Saturday, the Wolverines (6-4) couldn’t pull the role of spoiler as they fell to top-ranked Arizona, 72-70, Saturday afternoon at Crisler Center.
Though Michigan led for most of the game, it fell behind when an and-one basket from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson gave the Wildcats (11-0) a one-point lead with 2:32 left. After three more lead changes, Nick Johnson hit six free throws to give Arizona a five-point cushion with seven seconds to go.
A Michigan scoring drought that lasted nearly four minutes late in the second half helped the Wildcats overcome the deficit. But sophomore guard Nik Stauskas finally broke through as he got to the basket for an attempted dunk that managed to go in despite hitting against the backboard.
That series was just a snapshot of the enigma that was Michigan’s offense. In the final 8:44, the Wolverines converted just three field goals.
Despite that, Michigan still had a chance, but Stauskas missed a jumper with 11 seconds left and Johnson slammed the door from the charity stripe.
“They were really taking advantage of their length and size,” said redshirt junior forward Jon Horford.
Though they struggled to make baskets late, the Wolverines opened up a nine-point lead at halftime after a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by forward Glenn Robinson III. The sophomore dominated the first half, leading Michigan with 16 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the field.
“Glenn Robinson had an incredible first half,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller. “Look at the stat sheet. The one thing that was out of order was he didn’t miss.”
But the Wildcats outscored the Wolverines 11-4 to open the second half, getting the basket and converting at the rim after misses. They out-rebounded Michigan 18-7 in the half and collected 17 offensive boards for the game.
“We’re a great offensive rebounding team — that’s our strength,” Miller said. “In the second half, our shots in and around the basket we really did a good job of connecting.”
Michigan settled down following a timeout. Sophomore guard Caris LeVert knocked down a triple and then drew an and-one opportunity on the Wolverines’ next possession.
And he wasn’t done, either. LeVert scored Michigan’s next basket and followed that by throwing an alley-oop to Robinson. He finished with 15 points, including 10 in the second half.
Though Michigan shot 47 percent from the floor for the game, the Wildcats shot at a 55-percent clip and scored 20 points in the paint in the second half.
“Forty-seven percent against them is good, especially given the number of threes we usually take,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Getting offense wasn’t the issue. It was getting the stops. In the first half, we did a much better job.”
But Levert and Robinson couldn’t attack the paint all game against Arizona’s size, and the Wolverines at times relied on shooting from the behind the arc.
In the first half, after letting its lead slip to one, Michigan answered with a barrage of 3-pointers. The Wolverines shot seven in the last 6:55 of the first half and made four. But their inability to rebound and defend the paint doomed them in the end.
With the loss, Michigan moved to 2-24 all-time against a team ranked first in the Associated Press.